72°
UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Photography In A Whole New Light

A burst of creative combustion and his unique perspectives on everyday art and life have always propelled Pipo Nguyen-duy’s career as a professional photographer, and he brought them with him to campus when he addressed a packed house on October 30.

By taking popular art and infusing his own creativity, Nguyen-duy captures his imagination while presenting themes of immigration, assimilation, gender and race.

Born in Hue, Vietnam, Nguyen-duy said he grew up around violence and warfare before immigrating to the United States in 1975. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics at Carleton College in Minnesota and then moved to New York City, where meetings with musician Don Cheery and artist Keith Haring shifted his interest to art.

“I was inspired to become an artist myself-a photographer. I wanted to reconstruct the way history is written…much like molding clay,” he said. “It’s something I wanted to be; something that I knew in my gut.”

Growing up within multiple cultures was difficult for Nguyen-Duy, who said that he was often unsure of who he was, describing himself as suspended within two cultures: American and Asian.

“When I am asked, ‘where the hell do I belong?’ I don’t have an answer,” he said. “Where the hell do I belong? I like to think of myself as within a space that is neither the East nor the West; I’m like an eternal tourist with no place to call home.”

Despite speaking English, Nguyen-duy said he was unable to fully communicate and express himself through language and literature, often feeling lost with American culture. Through art he found a voice.

“Even now, I still have trouble speaking proper English,” said Nguyen-duy. “It is through this universal language of photography that I am able to communicate myself. My photos are visual and ambiguous, and my art constantly matches the way I live.”

One of Nguyen-duy’s famous projects is titled “The East of Eden,” a collection he described as arriving in a garden of Eden at odds with the environment.

“I wanted to map out the garden of Eden and what would happen if it was abandoned,” said Nguyen-duy. “During my journey, I found an abandoned greenhouse full of different plants that resembled the microcosm of an ecosystem. I photographed this scene all year around; my vision of the greenhouse was that of going through a death and rebirth cycle as the winter and spring seasons passed.”

Nguyen-duy’s photo journey has taken him from the depths of New York City to the far reaches of India, where he said he would go through six rolls of film everyday.

Of all his projects, Nguyen-duy said that “A Motorcycle for Bi” is by far his favorite. He described how he raised money to buy a motorcycle for a man he met in Vietnam named Bi. After presenting the motorcycle to the man who was just short of a stranger, Nguyen-duy said he gave Bi two options.

“He could simply take the motorcycle and be on his way or we could travel Vietnam together and photograph the journey,” Nguyen-duy explained.

Agreeing to the trip, the unlikely duo quickly became friends.

“With the photographs from the journey, I was able to raise enough money for Bi to repay his debts that he owned,” he said. “It was a journey that we both will never forget.”

Nguyen-duy is also a professor of photography at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio.

To see Nguyen-duy’s work, visit on the web at http://www.piponguyen-duy.com/